Prime Minister-elect Begin rebukes President Carter’s assertion that Israel will need to withdraw from almost all the lands Israel secured in the June 1967 war, especially Jerusalem and the West Bank. Begin is adamant opposed to dealing with the PLO. Begin refuses to relinquish Israeli decision-making to US preferences or dictates. These fundamental policy disagreements will remain unresolved between Begin and Carter for the duration of Carter’s presidency, and years after.
Mr. Clark: Mr. Begin, welcome to ISSUES AND ANSWERS
Your stunning victory in this week’s elections has aroused concern in the United States that it will be difficult for President Carter to pursue his campaign for Middle East peace because of your hard-line against giving up any of these so-called occupied territories.
Is there any compromise in your position that could provide a middle ground between you and President Carter?
Mr. Begin: Well, I hope to form the new government of Israel in the next few weeks, after the publication officially of the results of the elections, and present planning. If after that, as I heard the statement made by President Carter, I am invited to the White House, it will be a pleasure and an honor to go and meet President Carter, and we shall have a frank discussion about the issues concerning the future of our land.
I will put it very simply, I believe that Judea and Samaria are an integral part of our sovereignty. It’s our land. It was occupied by Abdullah against international law, against our inherent right. It was liberated during the 6-Day War when we used our right of national self-defense, and so it should be. We want to live together with the Arabs in equality of rights, in peace, in human dignity, in human progress. Nothing wrong with that. A Jewish majority, and Arab minority. Free people believe that in one country men of various origins can live together in peace and in understanding.
We in the Sinai and on the Golan Heights I believe in the accomplishment of a peace treaty we can find a line which will assure the interests of all the sides concerned.
Mr. Clark: Permit me, if I may, to state President Carter’s position. He has said in recent months that there would have to be substantial withdrawal by Israeli forces from occupied territory, the captured territory, with only minor adjustments in the borders that existed before your victory in the 1967 war.
Mr. Begin: I read that.
Mr. Clark: Of course, he is talking about the entire West Bank. Isn’t that position in almost total conflict with your own pledge to the Israeli voters-and you have said in effect that you would annex the occupied or captured territory.
Mr Begin: No, I didn’t use the word annex because it is a complete misrepresentation.
Mr. Clark: But you would not give an inch-
Mr. Begin: You annex foreign land. You don’t annex your own country. It is our land. You don’t annex it. I would like to point out that I read a statement by President Carter, and indeed he said almost complete withdrawal to the lines of Fourth of June, 1967, with minor modifications. To us it means the revival of the Rogers Plan.
May I remind you that when the Rogers plan was presented to us in December, 1969, I was then a member of the government of national unity under Mrs. Meir. Mrs. Meir, the Premeir, called in the New York Times correspondent and said: “If any government of Israel ever accepted that plan, the Rogers plan, it would commit treason.” Mrs. Meir said so. I would like to point out we have this a national consensus. It is not only the point of view of the…..but of all the parties except the Communists to reject unconditionally and under any circumstances that proposal of the minor modifications in the lines of the Fourth of June. And when Secretary Rogers visited our country, he participated at his initiative in a session of our foreign affairs committee.
I took the floor and I pointed out to him the paradox. The only part of Israel which supports his plan is the Communist Party completely subservient to Moscow. Whereas all the parties represent the 150 members of 120 of the Knesset reject it. So this is not a problem of our party but of national consensus.
Mr. Clark: But there has been a strong feeling in the United States that there was a prospect for movement as long as the Labor government was in power, where you appear to be totally unyielding on this.
Mr. Begin: I will explain to you what is the matter with the statement by President Carter. He would encounter complete the position of the previous government as well, by Mr. Peres or Mr.
Rabin. They sought to reject that withdrawal to the lines of June 4, 1967 and the creation of a so-called Palestinian state, much the same. But I hope there won’t be any conflict. Why should there be between us and the United States? I will try to explain to President Carter. He knows perfectly well the Bible. I understand he knows the Bible almost by heart. So he knows to whom the country by right belongs. Then there is a question of our national security. If we should withdraw from Judea and Samaria, please understand, everybody should have a look, a glimpse at the map. All our cities and towns would be in the range of the conventional artillery provided by the Soviet Union to the Palestinian state and the range of that artillery now is 43 kilometers, 800 meters. Not only Jerusalem would be in the crossfire, even Tel Aviv, Rehovot, Beersheba. All our civilian towns, all the civilian population. It is just inconceivable that we should agree to such a mortal danger to our mothers and sisters and women and children.
On the other hand I would like to bring out as I am going to do when I am in Washington, to everybody to whom I will have the privilege to talk, it is also very detrimental to the vital interests of the United States and the free world. Such a Palestinian state would in no time turn into the central base of the Soviet Union. It is not coincidence that during the strategic conference in Moscow, Mr. Castro was present and Mr. Arafat, at the very same time, and both were received by Mr. Brezhnev and Podgorny and Gromyko, the greatest rulers of the Soviet Union. But Castro is at least the Prime Minister of a country. We regret it is a Communist country. But Mr. Arafat and his henchmen lead a group of, I may say openly, with the Nazi attitude towards the Jewish people, they want to destroy our people and yet he talked to the highest leaders of the Soviet Union at the very same time. No coincidence because Moscow wants to take now the free world, let me say by two moves, one in Africa with the help of the Cubans and one in the Middle East with the help of those who call them Palestinians.
Now please note that Moscow already rules Ethiopia, South Yemen, Somalia, has a base in Libya, in Syria and Iraq. Should the free world allow another base here in the heart of the Middle East? I think it would be folly. And therefore I contend-
Mr. Clark: We want to talk more about the Communist threat but we have a number of other questions we want to get into.
Mr. Seamans: Mr. Begin, you have invited the Arab leaders to meet with you when you become Prime Minister.
Mr. Begin: I did.
Mr. Seamans: But there is a widespread reaction that we have all heard in the Arab countries that your election victory has been a very difficult problem for them, they think you are an extremist and they can’t negotiate with you.
What would you have to negotiate with the Arab countries who continue to demand a total withdrawal from occupied territory?
Mr. Begin: I don’t call those territories occupied. They are liberated territories. Judea and Samaria are occupied by Abdullah and Hussein with no basis whatsoever in international law. Through the invasion and aggression, and they corrected it. So they are now occupied territories. But let us leave out semantics. If the Arab leaders whom I invited to meet me in a peace conference-we want peace, we don’t want another war-refuse, do refuse to talk to me, the practical result will be that I won’t talk to them and it won’t be unique.
Five Prime Ministers of Israel suggested to the Arab rulers the same: “Meet me, anyplace, anytime. We are ready to talk peace.” And they refuse. So it will only be a repetition of Arab intransigence not to talk about peace. All of us, starting from Mr. Ben Gurion through Mr. Sharret, Eshkol, Golda Meir, Rabin, and if I become Prime Minister it will apply to me, all of us wanted to talk to them (about) peace. “Let us sit around the table.”
Actually, you don’t conduct negotiations for peace treaties on television. You do it in a room at a peace conference and everybody has got his proposals and their proposals may b completely different from ours or vice versa. But you talk peace. If they refuse, so they will have refused for the sixth time so then we shall know that they are very intransigent as they are. Because if they demand of us totally to withdraw to the lines of the 4th of June 1967, they should know that no one in this country except the Communists, and they have only six members in the new Knesset, out of 120, nobody in this country will accept it.
Mr. Seamans: On the basis of what you said, do you really think a reconvening of the Geneva Peace Conference is possible?
Mr. Begin: It is absolutely possible and I would like to tell you that if, as I heard yesterday, Mr. Vance and Mr. Gromyko agreed that the Geneva conference should be convened in the autumn, in the fall. If it is convened by the two great powers, and all the delegations would come, I will be ready to lead the Israeli delegation and speak on behalf of Israel and Zionism which is the liberation movement of the Jewish people.
Mr. Clark: But, Mr. Begin, though there is a new Geneva conference, isn’t your uncompromising position against giving any of the captured territories likely to put you on a collision course with the Arab world, and there is a strong feeling already being reflected in the comments around the world that your election has increased the danger of a new Middle East war.
Mr.Begin: Well, I don’t think there is any substance in this story.
My friend, please understand, Mr. Clark, the Arabs don’t accept any Israeli plan. They rejected the Alon plan totally and unconditionally. And the Alon plan gives up parts of Judea and Samaria. That plan was presented to King Hussein three times and he said three times ‘totally unacceptable.” If you meet him, ask him. He will repeat that statement.
Mr. Seamans: Mr. Begin, President Carter has assured the Arab leaders of his support for a homeland for the Palestinians. Presumably including parts of the West Bank, which you say you will not give up.
How could he back down on that promise without destroying his effectiveness and credibility in working for a Middle East peace?
Mr. Begin: I wish all the best to President Carter, and I surely wouldn’t like to do anything which would be detrimental to his authority. He is the leader not only of the United States but also of the free world, and we respect him very highly. However, I would like to point out that we don’t know what he meant by the expression “homeland for the Palestinians.” He said one day he will explain what it means. Let me hope he will explain it to me when I meet him, when I have the honor to meet him.
I think the Palestinians have a homeland. They live now in places, in the cities. Who are the Palestinians? They are Arabs.
You know, I call myself a Palestinian. Palestine is a foreign translation of the famous indelible word “the land of Israel,” and therefore we are all Palestinians. We want to give the Arabs in our country a free option of citizenship, cultural autonomy, so they can educate their children in their language and their heritage, in their religion. They have a homeland. They will live together with us, in peace.
As far as this so-called Palestinian state is concerned, separate us, take away from those 70 kilometers between the Mediterranean and the Jordan 54 kilometers on the line of Tel Aviv, or 25 kilometers on the line of Ashkelon, is putting in the greatest danger of the State of Israel. We cannot allow, we cannot afford, such a danger. Six million Jews in one generation were killed. We don’t want to see our children and women massacred again in our time. It is a matter of our life. Please understand it is a matter of our life.
Mr. Seamans: Now you said Mr. Carter did not make his reference to the homeland for the Palestinians clear. Do you feel that his statement contributed to your victory?
Mr. Begin: Oh, no. I wouldn’t say President Carter interfered in the elections of Israel. I didn’t want Israel to interfere in the American elections. I wouldn’t like to see the American president helping my side. I don’t think he helped anybody. I can only regret, as an Israeli citizen, before the victory, before the elections, the decisions by the new Administration about the concussion bombs and selling of the 24 KFIR planes to Ecuador were negative. I think we should have taken it up long ago, and we may take it up again. Of course, the United States takes its own decisions, but from time to time we have to point out that they may be corrected and revised, and if I meet him, I surely will speak about this problem with President Carter, but I don’t think that the steps undertaken by the President influence the voters of Israel.
Mr. Clark: Mr. Begin, please correct me if I am wrong, but there is a presumption in the United States that Israel is totally dependent for survival on American economic and military aid. Now, if you defy the official policy of the American Government-and again, this uncompromising stand on returning any of the captured territory. Aren’t you jeopardizing our continued support, or do you feel you can get by without us?
Mr. Begin: You ask me to correct you if you are wrong, so I am going to correct you. It is not true that the assistance given to us originally by the United States is unilateral. It is very important. We appreciate it very highly, and we are grateful. I is not unilateral.
May I tell you, Mr. Clark, that for six years, when this little country stood on the eastern ban of the Suez Canal, we helped your country very much, indeed, in the most delicate sphere, avoiding casualties in your army. You were then involved in a horrible cruel war in Vietnam, and we, this little country, forced the Soviet Union to send their ships with the munitions and weapons to the Tonkin Bay via the Cape of Good Hope, the longest sea lane on the globe, with the delay of every sail of 16 days and for six years-the public opinion in your country should know the facts-for six years you can make the count, how many weapons and the munitions we prevented from coming into the hands of your enemies and how many thousands of American soldiers we saved from being wounded or killed.
Or, I will give another example-
Mr. Clark: I believe the American people understand, this very special relationship between your country and ours, but you cannot get away the hard fact that we are currently providing you in recent years something about $2 billion a year in economic and military aid. My question to you is, are you so committed to going your own way that you could get along without that aid? Are you not dependent on us?
Mr. Begin: Please let me continue.
Mr. Clark: I would appreciate an answer to that question.
Mr. Begin: You will get it, but if you let me continue my answer. I would like American public opinion to know that in August 1970, there were hundreds of Syrian Soviet tanks poised on the border of Jordan ready to invade. The Sixth Fleet was moved to the eastern part of the Mediterranean, but the Sixth Fleet with atomic bombs not to be used, they are produced not to be used, they don’t have artillery, they don’t have tanks, they asked us to make the move. We made a move and the Syrians had to withdraw and confrontation avoided. Another service to America and the free world.
What I would like to point out is, their assistance in the economic field and supply of weaponry is of great importance, given to us by America and we are very grateful.
Why should it discontinue? You know that President Carter-
Mr. Clark: Wouldn’t you?
Mr. Begin: Excuse me. You know what President Carter said to President Ford, that during the so-called reassessment: you, President Ford, and Dr. Kissinger, almost brought Israel to her knees. It is inconceivable that the man who said so condemning such a policy should repeat it.
Mr. Clark: But-
Mr. Begin, And I don’t think-and Professor Brrzezinski told me personally that he doesn’t think in order to use pressure against Israel, that help would be withdrawn, it won’t. I don’t believe President Carter will withdraw help from Israel, the ally of the United States, a faithful ally of the free world, because of possible differences of opinion.
Mr. Clark: But those differences are critical. If you feel to reach accommodation with the Carter Administration on this-
Mr. Begin: I believe we shall reach an accommodation-
Mr. Clark:-on this vital issue of territorial concessions, won’t you be jeopardizing losing American aid? You do not think you would?
Mr. Begin: My friend, no. It is vital to our life and to our future, and I will try to explain it to President Carter. For President Carter and the United States Government it is a matter of policy. To us, it is a problem of survival, Mr. Clark, and this I am going to explain, and there won’t be any conflict. Why should there be a conflict?
Mr. Seamans: You spoke about American public opinion, the deep concern in Washinton over your election. How do you plan to try to change that? Will you work through Israel’s friends in Congress or some public opinion campaign in America?
Mr. Begin: We shall undertake great public opinion: we shall, of course, talk to Members of Congress. We have great friends in Congress, great friends. I know them personally as well. I met Senators and Congressmen for many years. They perhaps listen to me, and they know that we are going to talk to the American people. You know those two facts that I told you about the help rendered by Israel to the United States are absolutely unknown in the United States. Whenever I told them to the American intelligencia, I was asked the question: why is it a secret? It shouldn’t be a secret.
We have a community of interest. We should be allies. W should help each other. Communism is spreading, taking over country after country. We want to prevent it in the Middle East. We do prevent it. We are the central factor preventing Communism from taking over, so let us stand together for the interests of our countries and also for human liberty.
Mr. Clark: We would like to talk a bit, Mr. Begin, about the PLO.
Mr. Begin: Why don’t you say the so-called PLO?
Mr. Clark: The so-called PLO I will accept.
Would you consider territorial concession if the so-called PLO recognized Israel’s right to exist, something our government and the Carter Administration have been working to achieve?
Mr. Begin: Perhaps I will say something which may be a surprise to you. We don’t ask the so-called PLO to recognize our right to exist. We got our right to exist 3,700 years ago, from the God of Abraham, Yitzhak, Yaakov, and those killers who come to kill our children; we don’t ask them to recognize our right to exist. We don’t want to destroy the Arab people. They want to destroy the Israeli people. That is the difference. And as far as the so-called Palestinian state is concerned, to be ruled by the so-called PLO, again there is national concession (meaning consensus). It is not the policy of the Likud; it is the policy of the Israeli people.
Mr. Clark: One more quick question, if I may. Are there any conditions under which you would consider participation by the so-called PLO in a Geneva conference such as a joint delegation with Jordan?
Mr. Begin: Not at all. They cannot participate in the negotiations. They have a so-called Palestinian charter in which they say in Article 19 that the formation of the State of Israel is null and void from its inception. What are we going to negotiate with them? The destruction of the State of Israel? That is absolutely absurd. So they are not partners to our problems.
Mr. Clark: We are now out of time. I am sorry to interrupt you. Thank you for being with us on
Mr. Begin: Thank you:
ISSUES AND ANSWERS, ABC
Sunday May 22, 1977, Transcript of a half-hour interview produced and broadcast over ABC-TV and ABC Radio and published by Tyler Business Services, Washington D.C. ,
Guest: Menachem Begin-Likud Party Winner, Israeli Elections; Interview by: Bob Clark-
ISSUES AND ANSWERS Chief Correspondent, Bill Seamans – ABC News Tel Aviv Bureau Chief